The Toronto Blue Jays improved their playoff chances with a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday at Rogers Centre.
By taking the first two games of the three-game series against Kansas City, Toronto, which has won four consecutive sweepstakes, improved to 79-63 and maintained its hold on the third wild-card spot in the American League (AL). There are three wild cards in each league. Toronto has a firm grip on the final playoff spot.
Once again, the ace was the star of the show. Toronto starter Kevin Gausman struck out 10 over eight innings, holding the Kansas City offense to two hits and one run to improve to 11-8 on the season. He’s fifth in the AL in ERA and first in strikeouts (217), so he’s a lock for Cy Young voting.
Gausman has thrown 105 pitches. It was his 15th game with 100+ pitches in 28 starts this season. Gaussman is the playoffs’ No. 1 starter. With Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series coming immediately following the regular season, Toronto could reschedule or cancel Gaussman’s last start of the season if the third wild-card spot is not in jeopardy.
If the rotation stays the same, Gaussman will pitch the final game of the regular season on October 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays. That means he could be ready for Game 1 of the Wild Card Series right away. If a wild card is not clinched by October 1, Toronto would have no choice but to use Gaussman in Game 2. However, the odds are significantly less favorable than the other way around. As of today, Fangraphs gives Toronto a 77.7% chance of making the playoffs.
It makes sense to protect the team’s ace in order to prepare for the playoffs at the end of the season.
However, Toronto is protecting another starter, Ryu Hyun-jin, to the extreme right now. Since his return on Aug. 2, he’s pitched five innings in six of seven games until Aug. 7 against the Oakland Athletics. The other game came on August 8 against the Cleveland Indians, when he was working a no-hitter until the fourth inning when he was hit in the knee by a hard-hit ball and had to leave the mound with a bruise. Had it not happened, Ryu, who had thrown 52 pitches by the fourth inning, would have been able to go two more innings. That would have put him around 80 pitches.
The reason Toronto still has Ryu’s pitch count at 80 is because he just came back from Tommy John surgery. It’s the elbow that works directly on pitching, not any other part of the body. He’s going to have to get used to it gradually. Still, it feels like he’s “too protective” because he’s often taken out early when he has plenty of stamina and pitches to throw.
After throwing 76 pitches through five innings against the Colorado Rockies on April 2, Ryu gave way to Garcia in the sixth inning with a 4-2 lead. It wasn’t that his command and velocity were off; he’d gotten out of the fifth inning with a triple play on eight pitches, so he was hoping to carry that rhythm into the sixth. Garcia gave up two straight hits to start the sixth and was pulled after two batters, and the next pitcher, Genesis Cabrera, gave up a three-run homer. Manager John Schneider said after the game, “I wanted to use the bullpen early because we had the day off.”
The next day in Oakland, the A’s gave up another three-run homer in the sixth inning to Trevor Richards, who threw 77 pitches through five innings. “For the first time (since his return), he didn’t have to pitch on four days’ rest,” Schneider said at the time.
Justin Verlander, who returned last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2020, threw 80 pitches in his first start of the season, then topped 100 in just five games, and a whopping 107 in his seventh. His rehab lasted 16 months, about two months longer than Ryu’s.
Why does Toronto love Ryu so much, or should we say, adore him? However, Toronto has a steady rotation of starters, including Jose Berrios, Chris Bassett, and Yusei Kikuchi, who have all pitched well in the playoffs. The starting order for the playoffs is obviously Gaussman, followed by Bassitt, Berrios, and Kikuchi. Technically, Hyun-jin Ryu is the fifth starter without a position in fall ball.
Ryu is a free agent after this season. He can either re-sign with Toronto or leave. Of course, it would be a leap to assume that the Jays are protecting him now with a re-signing in mind. According to local media outlet Bleacher Report, ”Five innings is the new normal for Ryu. It’s understandable for teams to limit his pitches until he builds up stamina, but if he continues to throw five innings for the rest of the season, he’ll have a hard time being considered more than a fifth starter in free agency talks.토스카지노
Ryu has four starts remaining. Each of these games will be crucial in determining their playoff fate. It remains to be seen if he can achieve his first quality start since his comeback.